‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ (Season 4): Nevertheless, They Persisted

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ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” certainly hit the ground running with an excellent run of episodes that saw the showrunners step up their game in a big way, with a fun, topsy-turvy world in which near-everyone was not who they appeared to be- or who they were supposed to be, for that matter.

The show returned with the aptly-titled “What If…”, which posited a virtual world in which HYDRA ruled supreme and Aida (Mallory Jansen) was in charge, May (Ming-Na Wen) was one of her top agents, Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) was back as a force of good helping the Resistance- not to mention romantically involved with Daisy/Skye (Chloe Bennet)- Coulson (Clark Gregg) was a mere schoolteacher, Mack (Henry Simmons) had his daughter back and wasn’t involved with S.H.I.E.L.D. or HYDRA at all, Jemma (Elizabeth Henstridge) was dead and Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) was not only evil, but had his father back and was romantically involved with Aida herself.

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As we’ve discovered, Aida’s main goal is to make herself “human” by using a mysterious machine created by Fitz. If he succeeds- and the last episode ended with his declaring that he had- then all hope is lost for our heroes, as the humanized Aida will be able to kill off all her foes personally, something she was not able to do because of her programming, which, as it turns out, was the one positive thing Radcliffe (John Hannah) did.

Meanwhile, her adversary-turned-co-conspirator Anton Ivanov (Zach McGowan) is helping her track down where the physical bodies of Skye and Jemma are, so that he- or she- can kill them for real. To help, Fitz will be attempting to make Radcliffe an offer he can’t refuse, which appears to be the promise of returning Agnes (also Jansen) to him in exchange for ratting out whatever it is that May and Daisy are up to, aka taking advantage of the “backdoor” he left just in case things went south, which they obviously have.

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One thing showrunner Jed Whedon has done that can definitely be traced back to his brother, is the exemplary way he’s consistently turned “good” characters “bad” and vice versa. Joss Whedon was the master of this- who can forget Angel going bad after he and Buffy slept together? That was truly devastating. (To say nothing of what went down with Willow.) The Whedons get that there rarely is truly “good” or “bad” in the first place- just shades of gray. Anyone can go rogue at any time, if the right opportunity- or wrong, as the case may be- presents itself.

Here, few turns on the show have been as shocking and alarming as Fitz’s full-throttle turn to the dark side. Not since Ward’s own big reveal as a baddie has the show so left us flabbergasted, as to see the normally docile and sweet-natured Fitz as a vicious, murderous psychopath, willing to do anything and everything for his current love, Aida, aka Madame Hydra. He even shot and killed Agnes in cold blood, which was pretty surprising- not to mention unnecessary.

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The reason, of course, is a combination of his involvement with Aida, and having his equally nasty father, Alistair (David O’Hara, “The Departed”) whispering in his ear, Lady Macbeth-style, and encouraging him to do all these nasty things. Unlike some of the others, he has yet to realize he’s being played, and all is not what it seems- though he is aware of the existence of the “other” world, but naturally has been told it’s the “fake” one and needs to be brought down, by any means necessary, lest it endanger what he and Aida and HYDRA have here in the virtual one.

One would like to think redemption is possible- if not, we may have an even more hardcore death coming our way soon, and if Jed is anything like his brother (and as evidenced above, we already know that to be true to a certain degree), then all bets are off. We never had much of a chance to get to know Agnes, so her death was more for shock value than anything else, but Fitz… yeah, that would certainly sting, wouldn’t it? Especially if he went out as a bad guy. (I suspect if it does happen, it would be to “redeem” himself for what he’s done in the virtual world.)

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However, we have had one death that did really suck: that of Jeffrey Mace (Jason O’Mara), and just as he finally got his chance to be “The Patriot,” no less. Granted, he’s been on the show a shorter time than many of the main cast, but it still was pretty tragic, especially as I liked Mace 2.0 a lot better than the original flavor. I mean, not that that the Mace in the “real” world was a bad character or anything, just that it was a kick seeing him as an actual superhero, not a manufactured one, as it were.

As it appears that his death there meant his death in the “real” world, I guess that’s it for Mace, but at least he went out a hero, saving a bunch of kids, along with various members of his team- and even May. Something good did come out of it, though- May realized the error of her ways and helped bust Daisy out and joined the Resistance. It’s safe to say that Mace redeemed himself for some of his more questionable moves in the “real” world, so that’s cool, as it means his death was not in vain.

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We also, as many predicted- myself included- got the return of a familiar face, in that of Antoine “Trip” Triplett (B.J. Britt), which was very cool. I feel like this might not be the last familiar face we see, though the clock is ticking on the season as a whole, which has three episodes left, as far as I know. We shall see, but hopefully, the show has a few more surprises left yet. Even if it’s not the return of another familiar face, there could definitely be some big twists on the horizon, and, as I indicated, possibly a sad ending for at least one of our heroes.

Another thing I’ve enjoyed about the “third pod” of the show, as it were, was the sly references to politics. As I indicated in my article title, there was a nod to the infamous condemnation of Senator Elizabeth Warren by Senate Majority Leader and resident government douchebag Mitch McConnell, who he tried to silence after her strenuous objections to the appointment of Senator Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General.

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Understandable, and I say that as a current Alabamian, who knows what kind of creep this guy is, and has been for ages now- he’s easily one of the worst things to happen to Alabama, and now, our Congress. I guess Trump will hire recently ousted Governor Bentley next- unless his resignation is also a sign of things to come, which would be nice, though I dread the thought of a President Pence as well. Ugh. Moving on…

Anyway, this was hardly the only such reference, as the most recent episode name-checked “alternative facts” (hello there, Kellyanne Conway!) and tweaked Trump for good measure, with a tongue-in-cheek shout-out to furniture shopping as a pick-up move. I can see where some people might be all “keep your lefty politics out of my superhero shows, liberals” about it, but I would not be one of those people, so I thought all of that was hilarious and timely.

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I was halfway shocked they didn’t style that TV host more after Bill O’Reilly, a la what “Homeland” did with its vicious satire of Alex Jones recently, which was right on the money, not to mention perfectly timed. Be that as it may, I thought such references enhanced the viewing experience, not hampered it, as, quite frankly, I do wonder often if we have stumbled into another “Matrix”-style dimension my own damn self, only worse. At least some people didn’t want to leave that one. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to live in HYDRA-land, or the “Framework,” as it were.

All in all, this back end of the season is shaping up to be just as strong, if not stronger than the middle chunk, which was, in turn, better than the first “pod,” as well. Not that I didn’t enjoy the “Ghost Rider” thing, I just liked the “L.M.D.” plotline more overall, and the “Agents of HYDRA” storyline is just as good, if not better, IMHO. Of course, a lot will depend on whether they stick the landing, but so far, so good.

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What has been your favorite moment of the “Framework” storyline so far? I’d have to go with the sequence with the Patriot battling May, along with its aftermath and his untimely demise, though the scene in which May helped Daisy escape was pretty bad-ass, too. Loved that an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. actually used someone as a human shield in their escape, and that flip May did over the cubicles was awesome, as was Aida getting “quaked” out the window. Lots of cool moments overall, but those were my faves.

Did you enjoy seeing Trip again? What do you make of “evil” Fitz? Were you stunned when he actually killed Agnes? What do you make of his sinister father? Or Fitz being romantically involved with Aida? Will the team get through to him before he does anything worse? Or is he doomed? Or is someone else doomed? Or possibly both? It will be interesting to see how all this plays out in the end, that’s for sure.

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Make your predictions and leave your overall thoughts about the show down below, in the comments section, be sure to check out my wrap-up next month for the show’s final run of episodes and thanks for reading!